Field Notes: Printer’s Row

From Mike Knezovich:

My wife, Beth, is blind. For a long time, I’d go with her to the polls and sign an affidavit to be permitted to be her assistant. I’d go in the booth with her and read the ballot and mark her choices as she made them.

Which was fine. Except – and this may sound whiny – it’s not the same. It’s simply not a private ballot. And if I weren’t there, a stranger would’ve helped, but that’s the same problem. Well, not exactly – but would you want to channel your choices through a family member or stranger? Maybe you would, but it’s not a private ballot.

Anyway, the last three times she voted, our precinct (35) has made available a talking voting machine. In essence, it works like Beth’s computer. Special software lets her navigate the screen. As the cursor moves, what it lands on is spoken aloud – through headphones. So whether it’s the name of a candidate and a checkbox, or a “next” button, Beth knows where she is and can use special keys to make selections accordingly.

It’s never been smooth. They had a hard time getting it activated in the first three instances. But once they did, it worked. And I gotta tell you, it was wonderful for Beth, and just as wonderful for me. She got to do it like everyone else, and I was relieved of a responsibility I was happy to take on, but really felt awkward about.

Beth and I act like we’re not together in many circumstances – or we split up. Last time voting, we went at different times. But say, when we’re in an airport, I sometimes separate us – because the people act differently. They don’t always know what they’re doing, but Beth guides them. And they learn something. If they know I’m with her, they do that thing like, “Tell her to step forward.” “What does she need?”

But this morning we decided to go together because we’re both extremely excited about this election. And she would use her machine. I’d do my paper ballot and finish before her and leave out on my own.

Except as we arrived, we found that a neighbor – who also happens to be blind – was at the machine, and it wasn’t working. At the check-in they repeated that bad news. Beth asked if they’d called anyone, and they said no. They said the first time they can try the machine is at 5:00 a.m when they open, and it wasn’t working. There was a very nice young woman who had been trained to assist visually impaired voters with using the machine. But no one had a clue about how to make it work.

My wife was close to tears. That sounds melodramatic, I know. But I’m in solidarity with her on this. It isn’t the same. And you know, if they didn’t offer it as a choice, it would almost be better. But it’s like a ton of stuff that’s “accessible” (especially Web sites with captcha – just try using the audio sometime, just try, I dare you:)) – it becomes this thing that feels like it’s the rest of the world trying to feel good about itself but not really helping at all.

Anyway, Beth would have written directly – and she could do a better job summarizing what this means than I have -but she’s on the phone lodging complaints. It’s not the end of the world. We were polite and reasoned at the poll. She’s being that way now, I’m sure. But it sucks to be put in that position – to do what’s right you have to raise a stink, while lots of people basically say, shut up, you got to vote.

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